My Bad Yard

From the moment the first green shoots poke up until the last crackle underfoot, I vacillate between embarrassment and pride at the state of our yard.

My husband and I are cruel stewards: instead of letting our grass die, we make it suffer. Moments before the once-green swords buckle in defeat, we drag out a hose. We may not be “lawn people” but dammit, we have enough pride to prevent precious Montana topsoil from blowing to North Dakota.

Trees are another matter. We’ve lost too many to Dutch elm disease and Fire blight: once autumn sets in we give the ones that survived a long, slow drink at the drip line, hoping to get them through the dry white dust that often passes for snow in these here parts.

But the lawn, well…meh.

Winter will be here soon, with the solace of snow cover (or at least universal brownness) and I will stop feeling defensive–until spring.

A few of the neighbors have lawns that would be the pride of homeowners three states south of here and four states east. Some have respectable yards. A few have bipolar grass, shot up with spurts and fits of fertilizer and weed killer. These chemically-dependent lawns produce scary, mutant weeds that, instead of smelling like Montana, smell like Monsanto.

We have very nice neighbors. None of them have rung our doorbell and run away, leaving a jug of Roundup. They know better.

We might not have the prettiest lawn on the block (okay, we’re contenders for last place), but it’s environmentally sound and it’s edible: some experts contend that eating a little dirt–without the chemicals and doggie doo–is good for our immune systems. You might not want to bring your father-in-law over to look at our yard, but you can bring your toddler over to eat it.

I’ve decided to stop calling the area around our house a “lawn”. From now on, I’m going to refer to it as “our meadow.” With three varieties of clover, a smattering of chickweed, a lot of quack grass and a growing Sargasso Sea of Creeping Charlie, this is a much more forgiving, and also a much more accurate description. We may have a terrible lawn, but it’s a lovely meadow.

Americans may need to accept that a solid green carpet is unnatural, and in northcentral Montana, where we get less than 15” of annual moisture a year, perhaps even a little unpatriotic. If you’re going to water an urban lot, you could follow my friend Stu’s example and at least grow food (and in his case, habitat).

Besides grass, what other monoculture is grown with no regard for climate, local culture or crop suitability, all the way from Fairbanks to South Florida?

Maybe it’s time we all altered our aesthetic and let our yards go to pot. At least that’s a cash crop.

Claire Baiz

Claire Baiz is a writer who divides her time between Big Sky Country and the Big Apple. She’s been published in the USA Today, Untitled Magazine, Molotov Cocktail, and the Jewish Magazine. Contact Claire through her blog,